Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Writing

Eliminating Wordiness 

What is wordiness and why should I eliminate it? Wordiness can hide information, making claims unclear or incorrect. Accurate writing is more convincing and demonstrates that you understand your topic. Eliminating wordiness also highlights areas that need more supporting evidence or analysis. 

Step 1: Replace weak verbs with strong verbs. Weak verbs rely on other words to clarify what’s happening. Some common weak verbs are to be, to have, to do, to make, and to exist. Wordy papers pair nouns with these types of verbs. Turn these nouns into strong verbs that enliven your writing. 

  • “The scientists did research on solar energy.” → “The scientists researched solar energy.” 

  • “The students have an understanding of algebra.” → “The students understand algebra.” 

  • “There was a reduction in waste by the factory.” → “The factory reduced waste.” 

Step 2: Change passive voice to active voice. The passive voice uses forms of the verb to be + a past participle to leave the “who” out of the sentence or hide it at the end. 

  • Passive voice: “The study was conducted.” Who conducted the study? We don’t know! 

  • Passive voice: “The study was conducted by senior surgeons at George Washington University.” Now we know who conducted the study but the doer is hiding at the end. 

  • Active voice: “Senior surgeons at George Washington University conducted the study.” The doer of the action is up front and the sentence includes a strong verb – “conducted.” 

Step 3: Use precise language. Non-specific words often need qualifiers, or descriptive words, to clarify meaning, such as really, significant(ly), and critical(ly). Choose words that are specific and meaningful.  

  • “He walked wearily and laboriously.” → “He trudged.” 

  • “My boss communicated my schedule to me via email.” → “My boss emailed me my schedule.” 

Step 4: Cut empty phrases. Some phrases don’t add meaning and make sentences unclear. Try removing phrases that start with it is and there are and see if the meaning remains the same. 

  • “It is important to recognize that researchers simulated…” → “Researchers simulated…” 

  • “There are many metaphors in the novel that deal in some way with birth and renewal.” → “Many metaphors in the novel deal with birth and renewal.” 

Step 5: Don’t make claims; cite facts. Unsupported claims signify areas where more research is needed. 

  • “The majority of participants…” → “79% of participants…” 

  • “A lot of scholars agree…” → “Andrews, Bhattacharyya, and Chan agree…” NOTE: Including researchers’ names adds words, but isn’t “wordy.” It shows familiarity with the literature. 

 

Improve your writing and study skills! Book an appointment with a writing advisor and/or academic coach on OSCARplus.  Questions? Email skills@mcmaster.ca

References 

Cook, C. K. (1985). Line by line: How to edit your own writing. MLA. 

TED-Ed. (2012, October 31). Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns) - Helen Sword [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNlkHtMgcPQ&t=3s 

Ask Chat is Offline - Send an Email